Super Best Audio Friends

The evolution of the original irreverent and irrelevant and non-authoritative site for headphone measurements, i.e. frequency response graphs, CSD waterfall plots, subjective gear reviews. Too objective for subjectivists; too subjective for objectivists

SBAF Moderator Comment: This is quite important - very important. @GoldenOne / Goldensound has performed an excellent analysis of MQA answering many questions in how MQA works and providing insights to the resultant sound quality from a technical point of view. Most important, it addresses many preconceptions with MQA.

It's live! Go watch!

I originally intended to write up a 3000 word essay to describe a semi love-hate relationship with the company and how it transitioned dramatically, but instead I decided to keep it short and simple. Audeze did their homework. But they poorly label versions. This 2021 one should be given a dedicated name and product code. On behalf of Audeze, I’d like to first define what the f*** the “2021” version is.

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Enjoying them for slightly more than half a month, I should confess I was deeply impressed. Both subjectively and objectively. To the extent I personally think the so-called “dark age” is over. Let me start from the subjective side. New LCD-X (for my convenience, I will call it just LCD-X henceforth) is not only a complete reboot of LCD-X OG, but also experience-wise a tasteful mixture of every good LCD-2 and LCD-3 pair I ever heard... at much much higher technicality level.

When we say Audeze bass (or planar bass in general) is good, we used to associate it with certain traits of bass reproduction. Clean, hard-hitting, and very neutral. This time around, LCD-X’s bass departed from its house bass characters a little. Lowest registers below 30-35hz feel a bit withdrawn, but anything upper sounds very organic and well-textured. The level of delicacy is leagues away from any LCD-2 I remember. Very slight bloom was also heard, which I have never observed in any of the previous Audeze products.
For those not in the know, Final Audio is a very interesting boutique Japanese audiophile company that makes all sorts of stuff. For sure they are willing to experiment. My experience with Final in the past has either been "WTF is this?" (can't blame them for trying) to "now this is rather interesting". Fortunately, the D8000 Pro Edition falls in the latter category.

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I don't expect anything from Final to have near perfect frequency response, fantastic measurements, or even cogent marketing speak. The product page goes on and on about being able to properly reproduce bass tones which in my experience, orthos don't much trouble doing (the D8000 is an ortho), and weird stuff about an Air Film Damping System. Maybe this is Star Trek technobabble (Japan-Fi technobabble), or perhaps something is lost in translation. I really don't give a crap because at the end of the day, there definitely something to it. Not since the Abyss AB1266 have I heard monstrous bass notes with such clarity.

The price is astronomical, but perhaps not so if you really yearn for a vintage ortho such as the NAD RP18...
The narrative for Topping on ASR is well-established, and almost everyone knows ASR's MO: moar measurements = betterer. In that regard, I felt the only fair way to evaluate the Topping E30 was to evaluate it against something that I really feel measures very well: my penis. How will my penis fair against the E30, which is considered a top-tier measurement DAC?

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One particular area where I love my penis is that its transients can vary to fit your mood and energy levels perfectly. You can have very hard-hitting, fast transients with ample decay, slow transients when you really want to savor every hit, etc etc...
The purr1n theme AliExpress / eBay JL Hood 1969 Class A Amp excited me. I decided to make my own "JLH-69". Ordered coolers.

Such inclusion of speakers will allow to reduce a background and to improve symmetry. But this of course need to inspect. I made an approximate design and made drawings for laser cutting and manufacturing of body parts. Two design options. The design is classic. Nothing extra.

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Front mounted VU meters
Had some free time since ETA Genesis design is mainly finished so I thought I go back to my unfinished "HD850" project, which was mainly inspired after @Bill-P showing that it can be done.
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In a nutshell: Focal has adopted the Audeze sound for the Clear Mg. Think of it as an Audeze, but with a traditional dynamic driver. The upper mids and lower treble are muted. The highs return from the mid-treble onward. There is the tiniest bump at 1kHz. Yup, it's an Audeze (well, the muted upper mids and lower treble isn't as extreme). The Audeze sound is very popular, so this makes total sense.

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Let's get straight to the measurements. Subjectively, it's still an HD800. The tweaks are tweaks. However, I am hearing better bass quality, a throwback to the OG HD800 bass, which is a good thing IMO. Would be curious to run distortion analysis to confirm. The HD8XX does have the resonator like the HD800S.

HD8XX (BLU/RED) Compared to HD800S (GRY)
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More body (lower mids), but less thick (cleaner less thick lows compared to HD800S) - more like the HD800 lows. Lower treble hardness and glare is tamed like HD800S with the resonator. Slightly more mid treble and top octave. The upper mid dip (or differential between this area and highs) is slightly more pronounced. This all subjectively speaking. It's still identifiable as an HD800. The changes are not significant.
The Sony IER-M9 (the “M9”) was on my mind for months. From my research on the M9, it was discussed as being a warm neutralish IEM that doesn’t fatigue you out from listening to it for hours. Some stated that it is a more musical tuning without going in the deep-end. Others love the bass boost that isn’t overwhelming. Few stated they love the gradual downward sloping in the treble region. Since I been researching the M9 just a little too much for my own good, I picked up a pair. This is a five BA driver setup, which I believe one driver handles the lows, two handles the mids, and two handles the highs. I guess “high-five” to Sony on this one?

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Picked up an LSA HP2 from Underwood Hifi that I had been reading about. A biocellulose driver with graphene coating that is horn loaded. Made by Kennerton, it is mostly closed with a pinhole in the center of the flat wood cup. Spring steel headband with a leather strap and soft leather earpads. Kennerton's model is the Gjallahorn, is more expensive, may be better? I don't know.

Using a Jot2 and HP1 from Neurochrome. Easy to drive at 33 ohm 105dB/mW efficiency. Very comfortable for long term wear. They go on and don't move around.

The midrange is exceptional. Great separation and timbre. No bass or mid bass bleed. Details and plankton galore. Seriously hearing detail I haven't heard before, easy to distinguish different simultaneous decays, guitar cavities. There may be treble roll off, I can't say cause my ears are already rolled off. All I can say for sure is everything I can hear, I can hear better and there is quite a bit that I wasn't hearing before.
The Starfield is what I would call a warm and smooth take on a neutral signature. While it’s more neutral than most stuff out there, it’s not exactly a reference type tuning. Bass is pleasantly boosted over neutral without sounding bassy. It’s got really satisfying punch and rumble. Mids are natural, with slight heft to my ears, and sit well in the pocket drawing your attention in. Treble is just a little under neutral for an ever so slightly laid back and forgiving presentation. Tonality is great; it’s very natural sounding. Staging and resolution on the other hand are just average, yet somehow this is a plus- the Starfield just lets the music wash over me without constantly analyzing everything. Instead I’m thinking, man that song was great, I wonder what’s next on the random rotation.

The Blessing 2 is a neutral sounding in-ear; it is a reference type signature. It has a very slight bass boost over diffuse field flat that is centered in deep bass. The result is a natural, yet neutral sounding bass with very good extension. It has impact and rumble when called for but is never over accentuated to my ears. While very nimble and quick sounding, it’s lacking a bit in texture compared to the best dynamic drivers, resulting in a slightly over damped sound.